I know exactly what a Social Security Administration no-match letter looks like. We receive them yearly, sometimes all in one day, five or six in one stack on the dining room table. To be honest, they sort of make me laugh, announcing the government’s lame attempts to cover its large ass.
Until, well, apparently next week, an undocumented worker using an invented Social Security number would receive said letter each year, proclaiming that the name and number did not match the Social Security Administration’s records, and requesting the employee do something to fix this discrepancy. Considering there is no enforcement whatsoever, the employee, and the employer, also notified, did nothing.
I recall the first time we received these letters at the Asian fast-casual restaurant where Fermin and met and worked for several years. I was given the task, with my meager Spanish, of explaining that each employee had to sign a piece of paper stating they received notification that their Social Security number did match. That was it. I was sort of freaked out, and my boss said this was completely normal. Wink wink.
This was possibly the start of my education in the ways of the undocumented worker and the companies eager to hire them. I’m not saying this restaurant went out of its way to hire undocumented Mexican workers, but those were the only applicants, for the most part, that could handle the kitchen. In fact, when we opened, we had a rather diverse kitchen staff – a few Asian high school kids off for the summer looking for a fun job, a few Mexicans, a few aimless recent high-school grads forced by their mom to put down the remote/video-game control and get a job. Guess which ones worked out? I eventually became the supervisor of this wonderful group of Mexican employees, and they taught me a TON. One excellent kitchen manager made $12 per hour, so these weren’t minimum wage employees.
For many restaurants, this scenario is completely normal. There is no virtually no enforcement of the Social Security number mismatches, yet state, federal, Social Security and Medicaid taxes are deducted as with anyone else. As the immigration debate has boiled over in recent years, there is the occasional comment that if employers and the government would simply enforce the laws as they stand now, we would not have this problem. And in one way, this is completely true. Many people blame the immigrant workers, but neglect to ponder how much government-employer-undocumented immigrant collaboration actually has gone on to make this whole system work that way is is, or isn’t.
And while part of me wishes we could return to the days when the media and the politicians ignored these people and just let them go about their hard-working business, I know that will never happen. And if our elected officials are too afraid to pass laws that will actually expand legal immigration to meet the needs of our economy, I guess all we can expect is to watch the Department of Homeland Security start enforcing what it has to enforce, no matter what economic, social and cultural consequences it may have.
(In addition to the link to an LA Times article under the words “apparently next week,” above, a more comprehensive piece was published today in the New York Times).